Pitchers look for repeat performence

By Jason Grodsky

The Illinois baseball team will be among some of the best teams in college baseball this weekend when the Illini head to Texas for the 2006 Collegiate Baseball Classic.

After earning its first wins of the season last weekend with a three-game sweep of South Florida, the Illini enter this weekend’s Classic in San Antonio with a 3-3 record. Joining the Illini in San Antonio for the Classic will be Louisiana-Lafayette (6-3), Texas-San Antonio (8-7), Norte Dame (2-5) and 20th-ranked Texas A&M; (13-3).

“You always want to play the best teams,” senior starting pitcher Brian Blomquist said. “It is going to make us look better if we come out and compete with them. We’re excited coming in with a three game winning streak, the momentum will be on our side going into the weekend.”

With good outings by its top three starters, Blomquist, junior Jake Toohey and freshman Scott Shaw, last weekend the Illini will send all three back to the mound this weekend in hopes of repeat performances.

“Our pitchers just have to keep our position players into the game,” Blomquist said. “We don’t have to worry about striking everybody out. If we can get ground balls and have our offense come out and score runs earlier in the game it makes it easy on us.”

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    While the pitching staff found its groove last weekend, Illini sophomore catcher Lars Davis has been red hot from the get go.

    After losing former catcher Chris Robison to the Detroit Tigers in the third round of the Major League Baseball draft last summer the Illini found themselves needing to fill a large hole left behind the plate. Illinois went north of the border and discovered Davis at Lethbridge College’s Prairie Baseball Academy, and Davis didn’t waste anytime picking up where Robinson left off.

    Just six games into the season Davis leads the Illini in batting average hitting .571 with a team leading 12 hits. Davis is also tied for the team lead in RBI’s with junior Chase Kliment with six and is also tied for the team lead in runs scored with junior Mike Rohde with six runs.

    “Lars is a person who believes in his abilities,” head coach Dan Hartleb said. “He is a strong athlete and is very capable of maintaining his success he’s had so far. He is only going to continue to get better and better as the season goes on.”

    Davis isn’t the only one heating it up at the plate for the Illini. Freshman centerfielder Kyle Hudson has provided the Illini with an early season spark.

    Along with Hudson, Mattoon, Ill. native sophomore second baseman Ryan Hastings has given the Illini faithful much to cheer about early in the season after sitting out last year with a wrist injury.

    “Hudson and Hastings have done a good job defensively and have given us two more good left handed bats in the line up,” Hartleb said. “We have a lot of players that are athletic and more team speed than we have in the past. I’m pleased with where Kyle and Ryan are and also some of the other players in the line up too.”

    The Illini will need another solid weekend out of its pitching staff and consistency from its big hitters if it is to extend its first winning streak of the season.

    Illinois’ first game of the weekend will be Friday morning against the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette. The Illini are set to face Texas-San Antonio Saturday night and Notre Dame Sunday night, and will conclude its extended weekend Monday morning against the No. 20-ranked Aggies of Texas A&M.; The Aggies will be the first ranked team Illinois has played since Feb. 26, 2005 when the Illini defeated No. 21-ranked Winthrop University 7-6.

    “The difference between the first weekend and last weekend was we didn’t make a lot of mistake defensively,” Hartleb said. “If we continue to swing the bats like we have and have our starters maintain their level of pitching, and play solid baseball and be fundamentally sound then we will have an opportunity to win all four games.”